Unless you're knee deep in a heated fantasy football keeper league, drafting rookies is a necessity. In search of the next great star, you might sacrifice fantasy points on your bench for a player who is expected to dominate in a few short seasons.
In other leagues, drafting or even storing rookies on your bench can be costly.
Only a handful of first-year players are expected to carry significant expectations with them into the 2013 NFL regular season.
Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams), Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings) and Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals) are those players this year, and have been going in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts as such.
Finding a rookie sleeper is a tall task indeed. It might come with serious risk, but here's a closer look at three rookies who qualify as sleepers for your upcoming fantasy season.
WR Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints
Although he was downright dominating at times during his collegiate career at Oklahoma, Stills wasn't selected by the Saints until the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
After watching Stills during the preseason, the word "steal" comes to mind.
The California native had two catches for 54 yards and a touchdown against the Houston Texans on Sunday, doing most of his work against some of Houston's best secondary personnel.
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling went all Rob and Big in his praise of Stills' game:
In case you missed his 14-yard touchdown catch from backup QB Luke McCown, the team's official Twitter account posted a replay on Twitter:
Since New Orleans is predominantly pass-oriented on offense, there's something to be said for a third or fourth receiving option catching passes from Drew Brees. Granted, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles all threaten to take chances away from other suitors.
But Stills is a deep threat who also has good hands. There's a good chance he wins the No. 3 WR job in New Orleans, and that makes him at the very least a threat to crack a roster in need of depth.
TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Tony Moeaki's shoulder injury has opened up the door for Kelce to join fantasy relevancy.
A third-round selection of the Chiefs in April, the former Cincinnati standout had a strong junior season in 2012. With 45 receptions and eight touchdowns for the Bearcats, Kelce was a big target (6'5", 260) who thrived in the middle of the field.
Now that Moeaki is headed for the shelf, Kelce has a chance to become a favorite target of Alex Smith.
Head coach Andy Reid, who has long been known for using two-tight end sets on offense, signed Anthony Fasano this offseason and was likely instrumental in Kansas City's choice to select a tight end to provide depth with a third-round pick.
That decision now has a chance to pay off sooner than later, and Kelce is now an instant sleeper with a chance to make an impact as a rookie.
RB Kenjon Barner, Carolina Panthers
Carolina's running back situation is extremely difficult to project.
The Panthers announced that Jonathan Stewart would start the year on the PUP list on Tuesday, opening the door for at least a backup role for another qualified player.
Barner, the rookie from Oregon, is in a great spot to pick up carries during the first few weeks of the season. Though DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton will make it hard for fantasy owners to trust Barner, he's worth a look in a 14-team or 16-team league.
ESPN's Christopher Harris recently listed Barner as one of his "super-deep sleepers," citing his speed and ability to contribute in the passing game on third down as obvious characteristics that make him an intriguing player to watch.
If you're confident that the running back is a position in Carolina worth owning, it might be wise to take a look at Barner. Though his size is a concern, Williams and Stewart have both dealt with injuries and he's had a strong camp so far.
Rookies are high-risk, high-reward in fantasy football. Take the plunge if you dare, but respect the idea that these three youngsters are in line to surprise more than a few owners this season.
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